Pioneer: first African-American priest to study at North American College dies

What a remarkable life. Details, from the News & Observer in North Carolina:

The son of an Episcopalian minister, there were many ways Monsignor Thomas Hadden could have chosen to stand apart from his family, but his father did not protest when 12-year-old Hadden decided to convert to Catholicism.

“He was very determined,” said Monsignor Gerald Lewis, a priest in New Bern who knew Hadden for more than 50 years.

Hadden, a Raleigh native and the state’s most prominent African-American Catholic priest, died Monday in Southern Pines. He was 83.

According to Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, Hadden was “a courageous witness to the Gospel, often in the face of great adversity.”

His distinguished path to priesthood presented obstacles other priests did not have to overcome.

Educated in seminaries in Mississippi and Indiana, he became the first African-American to enroll at the North American College in Rome, Italy.

“It was a challenge for him because he was not just the first, but the only (black),” said Lewis.

Hadden was prepared to be a missionary abroad because he did not think he would be allowed to be a priest in the United States, Lewis said.

Bishop Vincent Waters, however, heard about Hadden and invited him to serve in North Carolina.

“If not for Bishop Waters, North Carolina would have missed out on Hadden,” said Lewis.

When Hadden was assigned to be the priest of St. Paul Church, where Lewis now serves, it was a predominantly white parish.

A small protest against his appointment was held outside the church rectory, where Hadden lived, in 1965.

He was not invited to community events attended by previous priests, and several members of the congregation stopped attending.

“He didn’t let their opposition to his color influence him from doing what a priest should do,” said Lewis.

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Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…

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